Wednesday, December 24, 2008

happy 30th, star wars holiday special!

[edit: sad, the Google video version is gone]

To think 30 years ago I begged to stay up and watch this. Thanks to the MST3K/Rifftrax for doing their best to improve it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

because everyone should have a wunder boner

Had to post this because a) found over at WWdN, b) it sounds like Mike Rowe doing the voiceover, and c) posting about Rick Warner just made me angry, so some levity was in order.

irony

Science good, bigotry bad. Science has certainly been misused, misunderstood, and misapplied over human history, but it is the engine of understanding and change that drives us toward a clearer and clearer picture of the universe and our place within it. Understanding helps us be less afraid of what we don't know and make better decisions.

So it bittersweet to see this. Science. In the White House. A pathetic sum up of the Bush presidency that this is somehow new and exciting.



Ironic to juxtapose this with bigotry and superstition, the safe havens of the lazy and incurious. I'm speaking, of course, about Rick Warren.

More than ironic, it's sad. Sad, because I will now treat the regular emails from David Plouffe the same way I treat books by Orson Scott Card. 4 years ago, Card wrote this and I decided to stop buying his books.

He has a right to his opinion. I have a right to disagree and not give him money.

So, David, I'll still be thrilled that science is going to return to our government and proud of the dozen or so friends helping with the transition, but I won't pay to support bigotry like Warren's.

Monday, December 15, 2008

babbage linden

I met Jim Purbrick, aka Babbage Linden, in 2005. Initially, we were both Terra Nova authors. Then I read his PhD thesis. We met in person at the 2004 Austin Game Conference, including a memorable dinner paid for by none other than Brock Pierce and IGE (even though, Jim, [redacted], [redacted], and I sat at a different table and didn't talk to them). I was thrilled that we were able to hire Jim and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of working with him.

Thus, I am not at all surprised to learn from New World Notes that Jim showed up at the Linden holiday party as his avatar, complete with steam punk accoutrements exported from Second Life via OGLE and built out of cardboard. Read the whole story on Jim's blog and look at the pictures on Flickr.

Friday, December 12, 2008

something to wash away the swoopo aftertaste

I remember seeing the first screen shots of Love earlier this year, but Rock, Paper, Shotgun just posted a movie.  Eskil Steenberg is one talented dude.  Beautiful visuals, a commitment to user expression and creativity, and totally old school software rendering.  What's not to like?


Eskil's blog is pretty interesting as well, especially the many posts that read almost exactly like Linden discussions from 2000 or 2001.

stupidity tax

The always wonderful Coding Horror has a post up about Swoopo, maybe the most perfect storm of variable reward gambling I have ever seen. Get this:

  • Items come up for auction at $0.15!
  • You place bids for $0.75, which raises the price by 0.15 cents and extends the auction by as much as 20 seconds.
  • You have to prepurchase your bids in blocks of 30 or more.
You see the brilliance of this business plan, right?

Let's do the math.  

Bids cost $0.75 for $0.15 move, so for every dollar in the selling price, Swoopo makes five dollars minus the cost of the item.

So:
5 x (auction price) - (retail price) = profit

We'd like profit to be a function of the retail price, so let's build a nice, simple, model of generating profit equal to the retail price.  That gives us:

5 x (auction price) - (retail price) = (retail price)
So, a little algebra:
5 x (auction price) = 2 x (retail price)
(auction price)/(retail price) = discount % = 2/5 = 40%

See that?  At 40% of retail (assuming Swoopo pays retail, which they wouldn't need to) they make profit equal to the retail prices.  If the average is 80% of retail -- which is still enough of a discount for Swoopo to brag about -- they make three times the retail price on every sale!  Their front page currently has $8,000 in retail.  By time those auctions close, they'll generate $16,000 - $24,000 in profit.

Did I mention that you can use a "Bid Buttler" to automate your bids?

I wonder what percentage of their users buy more than one pack of bids, what the dwell time is, etc?  Google trends shows traffic to their site exploding, but still low in absolute numbers.

Sadly, this post will probably increase their traffic in some trivial way.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

congratulations, cryptic!

Looks like my friends at Cryptic Studios are now working for Atari (again, for some of them). Given the projects Cryptic has in the pipe, this seems like a pretty good deal on all sides. We may all be in a recession, but great tech and great teams seem to always be in demand!

Monday, December 08, 2008

feedback and the appearance of intelligence

One of my undergrad degrees is "Weapons and Systems Engineering," which sounds scarier than it is. Weapons and Systems is basically controls track electrical engineering, but at USNA it's taught within the Weapons and Systems Engineering department. I took the major because it collided nicely with my love of video games and control systems -- plus, where else could you build robots that tried to destroy other robots?

The underlying fun -- both of writing games and building feedback-driven control systems -- is that reacting to the inputs and the world around you is what makes something seem to be alive. Whether a simple Eliza-style chatbot, an enemy AI rider who seeks you out cause you hit them, or a stepper motor tied to a camera that makes a water pistol face track, reacting is what makes things feel smart. Feel intelligent.

Nobody who's worked in that space can fail to love this movie:



It sure feels like our robot overlords are close to arriving.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

some media learnings

I have a lot of computers and media floating around at home and last weekend it was once again time to build some tools to better manage them. Wrote some Ruby and used rb-appscript to bend iTunes to my will. Along the way learned a few lessons:

First, ASTranslate is teh shizznitz.  It takes a pile of AppleScript and spits out working rb-appscript.  Since I really wanted to minimize the amount of AppleScript I needed to learn -- and wanted to be able to work my magic on headless machines, this worked quite well.  Let's say you want to take a Quicktime reference movie, insert it into iTunes, and then trick iTunes into managing it like a TV show:

episode = app('iTunes').add(MacTypes::Alias.path("#{path}/#{name}"))
if episode
  episode.video_kind.set(:TV_show)
  episode.show.set(name)
  episode.episode_number.set(episode_num)
  episode.season_number.set(season_num)
end

Want to search TV shows?

app('iTunes').user_playlists["TV Shows"]. \
tracks[(its.name.contains(searchname))].get

Easy peasy. ASTranslate running next to Apple's Apple Script editor and Doug's amazing repository of Apple Scripts made it easy to dig through this stuff.

Second, reference movies. If you use Perian (you do have Perian installed, right?), Quicktime and Front Row will play all kinds of movie types. However, iTunes won't load them. Reference movies are snippets of XML that allow you to work around this:

def create_reference_movie(dir, name, season, destdir)
  def raw_urlencode(str) # need to escape reference name
    str.gsub(/[^a-zA-Z0-9_\.\-\/]/n) {|s| sprintf('%%%02x', s[0]) }
  end

  File.open("#{destdir}/#{refname}", "w") do |file|
    file.puts("<?xml version=\"1.0\"?>")
    file.puts("<?quicktime type=\"application/x-quicktime-media-link\"?>")
    file.puts("<embed src=\"file:#{raw_urlencode("#{dir}/#{name}")}\" />")
  end
end

That's right, three lines of XML that you can create -- by hand, even -- to let you drag drop odd formats into iTunes.

Third, a gotcha which makes all of this less cool. Even though iTunes can share and stream video, it turns out that it will not do this for reference movies. Boo!

Fourth, this is well known within the Ruby community, but multibyte string support in 1.8 is weak. Lost a few hours this afternoon to a bug that was obvious once the "oh, strings aren't UTF-8 yet!" thought hit me.

Thanksgiving was mostly about cooking but it was fun to get a bit of coding time in!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

perusing change.gov

And the combination of economic, foreign policy, and education issues jumped out at me and reminded me of one of my white papers. I went back and found the section that applied:

Certainly, outside experts and people of renown can bring attention and business to a country. Perhaps a single speech or several days of meetings can generate a few new ideas or inspire a local entrepreneur. Unfortunately, the time and costs required to physically transport senior advisors around the world ensure only a very small number of advisors will be asked to participate. This a priori determination of fitness is contrary to virtually everything understood about innovation, where broad approaches are needed. Worse, the nature of an advisory role only focuses brainpower on the nation-state's interests for very short periods of time around specific visits or events. This is reminiscent of the "Eureka!" myth that innovation resides in brief moments of brilliance rather than deep, engaging collaboration. But the real loss is that no matter how brilliant or valuable the strategic advisors are, there is the missed opportunity because the advisors rarely have time to work together. Rather than enabling a collection of great minds to collaborate, cross pollinate, and spend significant time on the problems facing a nation-state, advisory board meetings tend to be whirlwinds of speeches and posturing. It is only the rarest of events that are designed to build the kind oflasting connections so critical to collaboration and innovation.

We need approaches and technologies to help us be smarter, connect across distances, and share knowledge trapped in different networks while emitting less carbon and creating new opportunities. With Lively shutting down and Wonderland unlikely to survive Sun's massive layoffs, how will this affect Second Life during 2009?

Of course, this need goes way beyond Second Life, but that will have to wait for a later post.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

outliers

Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers" demolishes universal preconceptions about success and opportunity. It argues that within broad ranges of intelligence, skills, and talents, incredibly success -- that is, becoming an outlier -- is driven by opportunity rather than the unique superiority of those skills. For example, being born in the first three months of the year is a primary indicator of whether you'll be a top hockey player in Canada. This is because age cutoffs in the earliest youth leagues result in January kids being bigger and stronger, leading to more coaching and practice. Rather than vanishing, this advantage continues all the way to the pros. Similarly, being born in the early part of the year translates into a measurable academic advantage in elementary school. Again, this advantage remains all the way through graduate school. "Outliers" contains too many stories to effectively synopsize, but suffice it to say that Gladwell describes cultural, geographic, and demographic effects that limit opportunities and that these opportunities gate success. Not that everyone is equally skilled or equally likely to succeed, but that above certain thresholds, opportunity, training, and practice are more indicative than additional intelligence. Gladwell drives the point home in the area of sports, where Canada literally ignores half of its population in building its national hockey team, but despite several examples of how transformative training can be -- Korean Airlines' dramatic reduction in accidents or the KIPP school's success teaching math and science -- stops short of stating the obvious.

Our understanding of innovation, collaboration, change, and success are sufficient for us to recognize that we our squandering the talents of many people. We prevent the majority of potential innovators in America from even trying. Only a very few ever are able to approach the 10,000 hours needed to become truly expert. For entrepreneurs, scientists, and researchers, that's years of experience and failure. And years of experience or failure you only have a chance to get if opportunities appear much earlier in life. Opportunities like learning to doggedly attack a problem until it is solved. Or properly manage power relationships in order to ask for what you want. Or to fail and try again.

We must do more.

Nota Bene: Some reviewers and pundits are attacking "Outliers" by arguing experimental science has a monopoly on The Truth. This is just silly. Every great advance in human understanding has emerged from the union of observational and experimental science. Both qualitative and quantitative research create knowledge -- my personal favorite examples are the meta-studies of the impact of funding source on experimental results. New ideas and interpretations spring both from unusual experiments and from unexpected observations. So, by all means, please challenge specific studies or stories cited in Outliers. Or craft better hypotheses and studies. But claiming the ideas are invalid simply because he's a journalist or the work is built on anecdotes demonstrates incredibly lazy thinking.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

redefining awesome

It may soon be illegal to use "awesome" to describe anything other than this video:



Found on WWdN, of course.

Friday, November 21, 2008

very interesting study

Congratulations to Mimi Ito, danah boyd, Michael Carter and the rest of their teams at USC and UC Berkeley, who spent over 3 years interviewing and studying 800 young people and their parents to better understand the impact of online activities and development. Thanks to Second Life, the MacArthur Foundation, and my time at Annenberg, I've known many of the people on this team for several years now and it's fantastic to see their work released. Amazing work and well worth digging through the results. A few high notes:

  • Youth are motivated to learn by friends online
  • Highly motivated to participate online
  • Most youth not taking advantage of all their opportunities online
MacArthur's Connie Yowell sums it up nicely:
“This study creates a baseline for our understanding of how young people are participating with digital media and what that means for their learning,” said Connie Yowell, Ph.D., Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation. “It concludes that learning today is becoming increasingly peer-based and networked, and this is important to consider as we begin to re-imagine education in the 21st century.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

tribes

As most anyone reading my blog already knows, the Intertubesweb, with its concomitant reduction in communication, collaboration, and computing costs, has dramatically increased the ability of small groups and individuals to innovate and impact thousands or millions of other people. Even if you know all that, Seth Godin's wonderful new book "Tribes", is well worth the hour you'll spend reading it. Tribes dives deeply into the drivers and implications of these changes. Tribes, communities built around ideas and leaders, thrive on curiosity and change. For organizations dependent upon stability -- Godin lumps them together as "factories" -- tribes are a heretical threat. Rather than engaging, growing, and changing with tribes, factories tend to fight them, succumb to fear, and are swept aside as the world changes around them. Godin exhorts everyone to find their movements, their tribes, and to meaningfully lead or engage. As with all his writing, "Tribes" is passionate, persuasive, and well worth reading.

finally

Having used every tool around during distributed development for Second Life, I am jazzed to finally see people moving in the direction of EtherPad. Real-time, collaborative text editing on the web done really well. Plus, from quick mucking around, it seems to work in the SL browser.

So, collaborative text editing in Second Life. Very big deal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

cscw08 keynote

The slides from my CSCW 08 keynote last week in San Diego.

CSCW 08 Keynote
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: cscw08)


Thanks to everyone who helped put together such a great conference!

Monday, November 17, 2008

star raiders living room mods

Wil Wheaton talks about playing Star Raiders on an Atari 400:

When I was 10 or 11, I arranged a TV tray, a dining room chair, and a worn blanket to make a small tent in front of our 24-inch TV set. I carefully moved our Atari 400 onto the tray and plugged Star Raiders into the cartridge slot. I flipped the power on, picked up the joystick, and booted up my imagination as I sat in the command chair of my very own space ship. For the next hour, I was a member of the Atarian Starship Fleet. I was all that stood between the Zylon Empire and the destruction of humanity. Through my cockpit’s viewscreen (developed at great expense by the RCA corporation back on Earth) I blasted Zylon starships and Zylon basestars, and I would have defeated them all, if my meddling mother hadn’t made me stop and eat dinner!
Other than my viewscreen being developed by Sony, this is an eerily familiar story.  Were all mothers actually Zylon spies, paid to disrupt the resistance?

Star Raiders, along with Rally Speedway, were probably the two games I played the most on my Atari 400.  Star Raiders, because it had so many ways to play -- do you just run away and turn it into tail gunner? try to finish the game without docking at a base? -- and it was like playing Star Wars and was the first person game to play until Behind Jaggi Lines! leaked out into the Atari underground.  Rally Speedway, because it was multiplayer and let you make your own tracks!  Incredibly impressive stuff for 8-bit computers.

Oh, and Dog Daze, the most perfectly balanced two-player combat game ever.  I shudder to think how much time my friend John and I spent playing that game.

Friday, November 14, 2008

balsamiq, lighthouse, and basecamp

Another application that is making me -- and a lot of other people -- happy is Balsamiq Mockups.  How often have you wanted a quick and dirty way to mockup a visual layout?  Mockups works very well for this.  It is also a wonderful demonstration of how quickly unified web/desktop app development is moving.  Mockups is built on Adobe Air and while the UI occasionally seems a little flakey ("oh, you wanted to click there?  No, I want you to wait a few seconds until I wake up.") it is really quite strong.  It's enjoyable to use and I wish Peldi all kinds of luck in coping with success and growth.


We're switching over to Lighthouse for issue tracking.  While Basecamp was nice and easy to use, it sits at a local minima for how we're working.  Despite weekly and bi-weekly iterations, we still have tasks that are long enough lived to benefit from state and multi-person comments.  Basecamp has made intentional design decisions in order to encourage simplicity and a very project->milestone->to dos approach, which I generally agree with, but they don't alias to our workflow very well.  I'm also finding that adding tasks in as full tickets encourages a more complete brain dump as opposed to Basecamp's to-do lists where terse and cryptic aligns with the user experience.  I suspect Basecamp is better suited to slightly smaller teams, as well as teams who already know each other.

Not that I'm sure Lighthouse is the final solution, either, but so far so good.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

whirled!

Congratulations to Daniel and the rest of band of pirates at 3 Rings!  Whirled, their very cool virtual-world meets digital items meets game creation engine meets whacky has launched.  Just lost 30 minutes to Fantastic Contraption.  Go check it out!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

mixed reality

One of the last projects I was part of at Linden was building a partnership with the MIT media lab. As we built out the Boston office, it was such an obvious fit, especially with a wide variety of SL projects already underway at MIT. A particularly exciting one was just written up in Forbes, Professor Joe Paradiso's X-Reality. Last year, one of his students, Josh Lifton, was doing some amazing experiments as part of the Plugs projects, so it is very exciting to see this moving to the next level. Especially apropos as yesterday I keynoted the Computer Supported Collaborative Work conference in San Diego, an ACM/SIGCHI conference on a broad range of collaboration topics. Somewhat ironically, I had agreed to this conference nearly 15 months ago, so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

yes we did

I'm writing 38,000 feet over the North Atlantic and I feel like jumping up and down. I'd probably end up arrested and the flight diverted to Reykjavik if I did, so perhaps not.

But I want to.

One of the flight attendants just passed along "200 to 90. Obama won Ohio." I can't remember enough of Nate's work to know if this makes it a sure thing and part of me is still convinced that he'll somehow lose and I'll have to move to New Zealand.

I was a Linden employee for 3 days when I got on BART to head home and heard they had called Florida for Gore. People were laughing and joking on the train, happy the math looked promising. It was a good night. New job, world's coolest project, cool people to work with in Philip, Andrew, Tessa, and Frank, and the country going in the right direction.

When my fiance picking me up at BART, she said Florida was back in play. We spent the night huddled around the television, waiting to see what happened.

I listened to a lot of NPR over the next weeks. Wrote the land code to arguments about chads, fairness, and the democratic process. Worked on strain gauge geometries with Andrew as we played with the rig. Created predator-prey models for the forest and whipped out the first version of lltask. Called Philip from the train home, excited about an idea to integrate a 3D Sodaplay.

And then it was over. The Supreme Court ruled and Bush was our President.

Fast forward 4 years. Our country went through 9/11, invaded two sovereign nations, failed to capture bin Ladin, survived the dot com bubble, and become more partisan than any time in recent memory.

Interesting times for Linden as well.

The forest transformed into Linden World and then into Second Life. We launched, failed to grow, laid off 1/3 of the company, gave residents IP ownership, changed the economic model, and received a big round of funding just before the State of Play 2 conference in New York. Everyone I knew was excited for Kerry's prospects, expected it to be close, but had faith that American's would see what a disaster the first term of Bush's Presidency had been.

Jerry Paffendorf had asked me to speak at the Accelerating Change conference at Stanford, so I was writing on Tuesday as the exit poll numbers started leaking out. A Salon article riffed on those numbers and suggested that Kerry was going to win. Again, a happy trip home on BART. Again, very different numbers by the time I was home. Another night up late watching the numbers. My wife and I went to sleep knowing that Bush had won again.

The next day half of Linden stayed home and commiserated over irc and email. We had more people in the office on 9/12.

On Thursday I was staring at a talk that just wouldn't pull together. Angry, depressed, sad, it was hard to build the kind of talk Accelerating Change deserved. Philip suggested I write angry, so I did. It wasn't filmed, but the audio is online.

I listened to that talk while waiting for my flight. As hard as it is to listen to myself -- I sound like that?? Seriously? -- it was a nice trip back, because this was the first time I spoke about some of the underlying drivers of Second Life that have impacted so much of my thinking since then.

Cultural production. Real-time, collaborative creation. Continuous improvement of content in the world due to breadth of participation and competition. Economic motivations driving massive and long-term cooperation and organization. Using Second Life for education, training, and as a filter for hiring.

People and communities not being evil.

As mad as I was, I'm a little surprised I remembered that. After all, my community, my country, just let me down. We allowed bigotry and fear to profoundly impact our decisions. Listened to sound bites rather than each other.

But the evidence of Second Life was compelling. Given tools and capabilities, people worked together in amazing ways. Leveraged amateur-to-amateur education on a scale no one anticipated. Cooperated. Created. Innovated.

Which brings us to now.

Virtually everyone smart I know was somehow involved in the Obama campaign. I first brushed against the campaign nearly two years ago and they were already asking questions, creating a ground game, and building on what Trippy and Dean accomplished with everything learned about viral communities in the intervening years.

I didn't end up involved with the campaign to any degree. Sure, I blogged about it and donated, but mostly I was working. I was asked to sign on to Obama's tech policy when it was released last November and would have, except that the final version hit my inbox a few minutes ahead of Philip's email informing me that he wanted me to leave Linden. Unfortunate timing, that.

Fortunately they had plenty of voices of support. It was, and is, a good start for thinking about technology. More on that in a later post.

I do smile remembering a wide ranging brainstorm session at Aspen airport on the way home from the Aspen Institute. There were both Obama and Clinton advisors there and we were talking voter registration and turnout. Traditionally, ground teams focus on getting people to make 3 commitments in order to ensure turn out.

Make a donation. Go to a rally. Vote in the primary.

If you do those things, you'll vote in the general election.

We talked about how to use technology to help. Give volunteers online communities to feel more connected. Use participation in social networks as overt acts, commitments. Mashup data to help registrations. Remember that "email is for old people", so focus on cell phones and SMS to connect to the youth vote. I doubt much of this was new to the Obama team, but over the next year there were some follow up questions and phone calls. A lot of knowledgeable online community people get very, very busy.

All of which led to an historic, game-changing election.

An election where we spent more time learning from each other rather than from Rovian sound bites. Where communities connected both internally and across boundaries. Not that we're done, but Obama's broad base of support should be a mandate to heal the destructive red-blue divisions so exacerbated during the last 8 years.

Healing that should serve as a model for how America -- and more importantly, Americans -- reengage with the world.

A flight attendant just passed along "Obama has 324."

Maybe I will start jumping up and down.

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama! Hooray as well for everyone involved in his campaign.

Yay, us!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

no on 8

Supporters of Proposition 8 should take a moment to reread John Stuart Mill's essay, "On Liberty."  Particularly his thoughts on the tyranny of the majority.

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.

Please remember to vote Tuesday!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

oh good, I'm not the only one

NY Times has an article on Dynolicious, for iPhone, lets you record the 1/4 mile times of cars via the iPhone's accelerometer.


Or anything else you happen to be riding in...

Airbus 320
0-60 11.82s
1/4 mi 19.11s @ 106.5 mph

Boeing 737-500
0-60 12.92s
1/4 mi 20.01s @ 95.4 mph

Airbus 319
0-60 13.18s
1/4 mi 20.4s @ 93 mph

Boeing 757
0-60 13.52s
1/4 mi 20.56s @ 97.7 mph

Boeing 747-400
0-60 14.29s
1/4 mi 21.18s @ 90.3 mph

BART
0-50 24.11s
1/4 mi 23.58s @ 49 mph

Accelerometers are cool.  How else would you end up knowing these numbers?  What other machines -- elevators, roller coasters, ferries, etc -- would generate interesting results?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

all the way

From WWdN:



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

foodie heaven, ey?

At O'Hare on the way home from Cory and Alice's lovely wedding in Toronto.  Fabulous event full of fun people.  This was our first non-work related travel in 6 years, so it made for a lovely minication.


And what a great place to be!

Cory had suggested the Gladstone Hotel.  It's a small-ish, boutique hotel at the edge of the rapidly gentrifying Queen Street.  Staff was occasionally a bit spacy -- for example, our "4am wakeup call and 5am cab to airport" was converted into "5am wakeup call and 4am cab" -- but the rooms were comfortable, the bar's lattes and apple crisps fantastic, and the road noise manageable.

What was amazing was the range and quality of food options along Queen Street.  Every 3 or 4 doors was a tiny, dark bar that also has 5-7 tables and also serves food -- especially brunch.  We ate at several.  The highlights -- in addition to Manhattan -- were:

Swan - a retrofitted bar/diner with a short menu and daily specials.  We shared a chorizo-chicken-mussel stew that was just about perfect, especially accompanied by "toasted break with tomatoes" -- huge chunks of soft, fresh bread, toasted under a broiler and accompanied by tomatoes and the amazing olives.

The Drake Hotel - we hit the Drake's coffee shop -- excellent espresso and a scary good beer-oatmeal bread/brownie -- as well as their dining room.  Monday's are tricky on Queen Street, as much is closed, so the Drake offer's a Monday nigh special.  Definitely opt for the charcuterie plate and the pork belly sliders on cheddar biscuits.

All good and ridiculously cheap -- even before conversion back to USD -- if you're used to California food prices.

About the only low spot was One of a Kind, an Italian restaurant with way too many items on the menu and a shocking habit of dumping cups full of Kraft parmesan over what might otherwise have been very well grilled calamari.

So, if you get to Toronto, head to Queen Street West and explore.  You won't be disappointed!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

trying manhattan toronto

Apparently, brunch is a Big Deal in Toronto.  Well, when in Rome...

This morning we tried Manhattan -- based on this recommendation -- and it was fabulous.  The 3-cheese macaroni was nearly perfect, especially with the accompanying greens and balsamic reduction.  Service was a bit slow because they were setting up for a poetry reading, but the seats were comfortable, atmosphere relaxing, and coffee delicious.  If you're in southwest Toronto looking for brunch, check it out!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

congrats to aws

Lots of news in Amazon Web Services country.  EC2 now has a service level agreement and is officially out of beta.  More importantly, Amazon has announced that load balancing and automagic scaling is coming.  These are both big deals, although directly competitive with products other companies have built on top of AWS.  Interesting to watch how that will play out in the community.  


Autoscaling and load balancing are both keys to the work I'm doing at EMI.  In particular, as we consider different models for viewing and accessing data, capabilities -- an approach to access control central to Second Life over the last 2 years -- are looking like a likely solution to some of challenges we face.  EC2 with load balancing and scaling lends itself nicely to supporting caps.

Thanks, Amazon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

538

I'm noodling on schema questions, so quick little posts work well as mental palette cleansers...


Probably not new to anyone who reads my blog, but fivethirtyeight is an amazing site for a bunch of reasons.  It dives remarkably deeply into statistics, including lots of great math and discussion about the decisions Sean and Nate make.  It has some beautiful charts that convey a ton of information.  Sean got into stats -- like so many people -- from digging into baseball.

Great stuff.

for those who think high-performance 3d is easy

The new MacBook Pros ship with two graphics cards: the NVIDIA 9600M GT for games and high-performance tasks and the NVIDIA 9400M for power savings.  Seems pretty sweet, right?  Plug your laptop in and run with a great mobile GPU, unplug it and you've got long battery life.


But wait.  Switching cards isn't automagic.  It's not even just a change in preferences.

As this support page explains, you need to log out!

Think about that.  Nobody obsesses about user-experience like Apple.  Love 'em or hate 'em, every element of using an Apple product, from unboxing on, has been debated, argued, and considered.  Think Steve said "The best user-experience is to have to log out, ensuring that you often have accidentally left the laptop in high performance mode as you get on a cross-country flight.  Perfect!"

Unlikely.  So why didn't they?  Because an army of engineers at two very smart companies -- Apple and NVIDIA -- were unable to ensure switching cards wouldn't cause horrible lockups and system crashes without a full log out.  Switching on the fly would leave dynamic libraries incorrectly bound, state set incorrectly, or whatever underlying problem forced them into a suboptimal user-experience.

Hopefully as more laptops go to heterogeneous GPU setups these kinds will be worked out, but it's yet another reminder of how difficult it is to get high-performance 3d just right.

Even a decade after GPUs started going mainstream.

geek love

A graphics card that should run Second Life well plus faster RAM?  Enough storage to make dual-boot and/or run Parallels?  I so want the new MacBook Air.  Pity about Apple's decision to go glossy only on their screens, though, as they'll be glaretastic.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

oath of office

When you join the United States military, you take the oath of office. This oath states:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

Like me, John McCain took this oath upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy. Each year, McCain takes the oath again as a member of Congress.

I would like him to square that oath with a campaign that encourages this:





These people are not all crazy or stupid. Instead -- worse -- they are normal people, worried about the future for themselves, their families, and their children, being willfully mislead, distracted, scared by a campaign more focused on winning at all costs than remembering the oath Senator McCain took.

While Senator McCain is not responsible for the behavior of every one of his friends or supporters, to encourage this kind of mob mentality is reprehensible and irresponsible.

He should be ashamed of himself.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

digital music forum west

Last week I walked off a plane from London and gave my first music industry talk, an evening keynote at Digital Music Forum West in Los Angeles that ended just as the Biden-Palin debate was starting up. Fun talk to prep for, as the last 3 months at EMI have been such a "drinking from the firehouse"-experience that synthesizing all the data into a brief enough format was tricky, but the experiences of building Second Life -- particularly user-driven innovation and the tremendous explosion of music within SL -- provided the right scaffolding to build around.

Live streaming video by Ustream

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

kindle and recommendations

Yet another nice thing about Kindle is that when a friend mentions they're reading a great book you can have it in seconds. This happened to me last week and since then -- that's to a lot of time in airports -- I've read Stephenie Meyer's wonderful Twilight novels. I really enjoyed them. Equally good, although very different, is her other novel, The Host. She reminds of Elizabeth Moon at her best, with rich characters, consistent worlds, and remarkably human stories.

Yes, Twilight follows the federally mandated sequence for vampire novels

Book 1: Vampires
Book 2: Werewolves
Book 3: Vampires vs. werewolves
Book 4: Vampires vs. shadowy vampire "government"

but Meyer's disregard for many mythical conventions allows her to build the world her way, and the result is very good. Yes, it is a "young adult" novel, but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying it. I look forward to book 5!

Monday, October 06, 2008

exporting from keynote 08 to powerpoint 08

I prefer to build presentations in Keynote, but most of the world uses PowerPoint so I often need to export from Keynote. With the most up-to-date versions of each, PowerPoint could no longer open Keynote exports, failing with an uninformative error message if loaded from finder or failing silently if loaded from PowerPoint's File menu.

There is a lot of discussion about this on the Mac forums with little concrete resolution. For me, removing the speaker notes from the Keynote version fixed the problem and my exports worked again.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

order of operations

My friend Zach Radding has been working on the coolest project ever, an all-electric Lamborghini Diablo replica.  Zach is a mechanical genius and has been documenting his progress on his blog.  However, this order of operations made me smile.  Below is some great video of him zipping around the airfield.



Note the entry for the video is before this entry.

The one where he installed the seats.

Just an amazing project. And green, too!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

ponoko

This is so cool.  Ponoko is selling user-created jewelry.  Those of us who built and lived Second Life have been talking about this for years, but Ponoko seems to be crossing over into mainstream a bit.  What's especially interesting is that Ponoko allows you to create using design software, sending in drawings, or working with a designer.


How long until they take Second Life creations directly?  Instructables already have a tutorial for using Google SketchUp, so it seems like a no-brainer to turn the world's largest supply of creators loose by connecting to SL.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

pairing iphone and audi a3

Neither the Audi dealer nor the local Apple store had any idea how to do it, and after reading a lot of different opinions around the web, I was worried that getting an iPhone properly paired with our new Audi A3 was going to be a hassle.


It wasn't.
  1. Turn on Bluetooth.
  2. Start car.
  3. Wait for iPhone to find Audi, press button to pair.
  4. Type in 1234 (yay for obvious defaults!)
  5. Wait about 30 seconds for Audi to slurp up address book and voila!
Nobody seems to make a cradle for the iPhone thats compatible with Audi's charging spot, so I purchased a car charger for the iPhone.  No, it's not aesthetically pleasing, but it appears to work fine.

Friday, September 19, 2008

magic card divestment, kudos to card kingdom

While building the arcade game Magic: the Gathering -- Armageddon I, along with most of the team, spent a lot of time playing the card game Magic: the Gathering.  A lot of time.  For those not familiar with Magic, Richard Garfield created the modern interpretation of collectible card game when he created Magic in 1993.  It is a wonderful game and one that I still enjoy playing when I get the chance (which unfortunately isn't often).


A downside of Magic is that you accumulate a ton of cards.  A few weeks ago we were cleaning the garage and I decided it was finally time for the collection to go.  Having neither the time nor patience to eBay the valuable ones as singles, I sent the most valuable 200 or so to Card Kingdom in Seattle.  Huge shout out to Card Kingdom for having a really well designed site, clear instructions, easy submission process, and rapid turnaround.  Certainly I could have made more money off of eBay, but the time savings was dramatic.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

22 billion minutes

Dean Takahashi interviewed Mark Kingdon, Linden Lab's new CEO, over on Venture Beat.  One comment really jumped out at me.  Talking about in-world voice, Kingdon said:

Looking forward to the next 12 months, we are on a run rate of 22 billion minutes
22 billion minutes.  How much is that?

We know that Skype recently made a big deal about 100 billion minutes in it's first 4 and 1/2 years.  Assuming a very tail-heavy curve consistent with their growth, that's 40 billion minutes a year.

So Second Life users are already generating nearly 50% of Skype's voice traffic.  That is an astounding amount of voice traffic and and a great demonstration of how useful high-quality, spacialized voice can be in a collaborative environment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

so you want to change the music business...

What I love about joining EMI is the chance to dramatically change the music business. Everyone around music has opinions about what is right and wrong about what we're doing, but nothing compares to being part of a major and seeing the big picture form the inside. Even better, I get to build a team to tackle a broad set of challenges with all the modern tools and firepower the web brings to the table.

The team is still small, but now that we have office space in San Francisco -- rather than working out of our homes, Starbucks, airports, and other random locations -- it's time to start the next phase of hiring. Like the previous teams I've built, I want brilliant generalists. We face a diverse and changing set of opportunities over the next couple of years, so I need people who can learn and build on their existing skills.

Moreover, you have to be comfortable taking new looks at old problems. Disruptive change is hard, especially in industries with long histories and complex ecosystems, but creating disruption is about the most fun you can have as a developer (at least with your clothes on).

We're built from ex-Google, Yahoo, Linden, Schwab, and CNet employees. We believe in learning from our customers, working efficiently, boutique dark chocolate, and under-promising/over-delivering. We've all built teams and companies before and are on a mission to change the music business.

If you think you are up to the challenge and match up with one of the descriptions below, send a plain text resume to cory dot ondrejka at gmail dot com with the role you're interested in as the subject line.

Software Engineer
EMI Digital Music is looking for great software engineers to build cutting edge applications using Ruby, Rails, and Amazon Web Services at our new San Francisco office. The perfect candidate enjoys creating well designed software, is current with new technology and trends, and is passionate about delivering high quality products. EMI Digital Music is seeking generalists who are comfortable in multiple parts of the application stack and who enjoy complex challenges.

Job description
  • Design and implement new features to support internal and customer-facing projects
  • Help to maintain existing systems
  • Participate in on-call rotation and help troubleshoot production issues
  • Work with customers to help determine requirements and priorities
  • Document and test your work
Requirements
  • BS/BA in Computer Science or equivalent
  • 5+ years of software development experience
  • Mad Ruby and Rails skillz (or can demonstrate that this Rail's crap is easy)
  • Lazy when appropriate, experience working with free and open source projects
  • History of getting things done quickly
  • Believe testing is part of the development process
  • Play well with others and enjoy working in insanely collaborative ways
  • Experience writing JavaScript. Exposure to and some usage of libraries such as jQuery/YUI! is even better.
  • Good understanding of CSS
  • Experience working with AWS, CDNs, SSO systems and/or music & video production workflows a plus
  • Experience dealing with cross browser issues in relation to web development a plus

Web Engineer UI
EMI Digital Music is seeking a UI Web Developer to push the limit of their craft at our new San Francisco office. This role will be responsible for the development of innovative user interfaces, feature enhancements and other cool shit to make the music industry rock. There will be a strong preference for candidates with a background developing modular components for large-scale web applications that extensively leverage stylesheets and JavaScript-driven functionality. The ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate an adherence to best practices in their work regarding browser compatibility, usability, and the separation of content from presentation.

Job description
  • Mad skillz to produce web interfaces, widgets, applications and other front-end components using XHTML, XML, CSS, Flash, and JavaScript
  • Work with a tight knit team of engineers, UX peeps, product managers and project managers to identify the needz to create fast loading, clear, and creative solutions for music web sites
  • Optimize pages for cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility
  • Rectify styling issues with CSS and troubleshoot JavaScript bugs
  • Superior attention to detail
Requirements
  • 3+ years of UI development or graphic design experience / appropriate degree
  • Photoshop CS
  • Illustrator CS
  • Ability to write semantic XHTML markup
  • Familiar with using CSS for table-less layouts and DOM manipulation
  • JavaScript 1.0 and above
  • User Interface design experience
  • Familiarity Ruby on Rails / ERB
  • Ability to write and update design specification documents
  • Proficiency with Javascript libraries such as YUI, Scriptaculous or JQuery a plus
  • Knowledge of Flash 8 or above (ActionScripting a big plus)
  • Experience creating or consuming web services a plus

Junior Software Engineer
EMI Digital Music is looking for a great Ruby software engineer noob. The right person for this job is someone that really wants to become a software craftsmen. Start as a Rails apprentice with a team of rock stars at our new San Francisco office. You *must* stay current with new trends. EMI Digital Music is seeking generalists who are comfortable in multiple parts of the application stack and who enjoy complex challenges.

Job description
  • Take direction from senior engineers and implement new features to support internal and external projects
  • Help to maintain existing systems
  • Participate in our on-call rotation and help troubleshoot production issues when they arise
  • Document your work, document, test, and document
Requirements
  • BS/BA in Computer Science or equivalent experience
  • Willing to work hard learning the craft
  • History of getting things done quickly
  • Ruby skillz
  • Experience developing and deploying Ruby on Rails
  • Experience writing JavaScript. Exposure to and some usage of libraries such as jQuery/YUI! is even better.
  • Good understanding of CSS, AJAX, and other Web technologies
Product Manager
Love music? Love technology? Have we got the job for you. EMI Digital Music is looking for smart, passionate product managers to define compelling products to rock the music industry. You will be part of a fast-moving, entrepreneurial team building the next generation of products for fans and artists based on technologies like Ruby, Rails, and Amazon Web Services. The ideal candidate has a proven track record of creating web-based products that customers love.

Job description
  • Understand and analyze the needs of EMI customers, including fans, artists and labels
  • Perform market & competitor research
  • With engineering, define product vision, future direction, and execution roadmap
  • Gather and analyze data to measure product success
  • Evangelize products internally and externally

Qualifications
  • BS or BA, computer science or other technical degree a plus
  • Ability to think both strategically and tactically
  • Passion for well-designed products
  • Thrive on ambiguity & managing complexity
  • Strong technical abilities and understanding of internet technologies
  • Solid analytical and communication skills
  • Experience building large-scale, web-based consumer products is a huge plus

Thursday, September 04, 2008

automation not helping

I'm at Heathrow and the intraweb, apparently unaware of certain events that occurred in the skies over southern England, is serving me the German version of sites.  This is not helpful, although I could get used to using Google to search "Das Web."

seriously

Somehow had lost indexed from my reader.  Glad I found it again:










Monday, September 01, 2008

thanks, henrik!

I've been up to my eyeballs getting EMI digital up and rolling. We have our temporary space in San Francisco, have made a few early, critical hires, and the path ahead is becoming clearer. So, full steam ahead.

However, looking back can be fun, too. Henrick Bennetsen, who many of you know from the Metaverse U summit, sent me links to some funny movies from my SLCC'06 talk. They are archived as part of the Stanford Humanities Lab's wonderful "Archiving Virtual Worlds" project. Thank you, Henrik, these videos made me smile!





The video referenced in my talk. Second Life circa September, 2001.

Friday, August 29, 2008

geek celebrity

Well spent or not, I'm glad NVIDIA paid Adam and Jamie to do this...


Shakeycam version of the end of it...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

digital media and learning competition

The MacArthur Foundation is sponsoring a very exciting competition around digital media and learning, with a focus on participatory learning.  This is a subject I've written about -- both for MacArthur and in other contexts -- and feel is a critical element to both formal and informal education as our world continues to increase in complexity and entanglement.  With the deadline for both the Innovation and Young Innovator awards October 15th, I suspect that many readers of this blog are involved in projects that should be in the running.  This is an amazing opportunity to bring cutting edge learning to a broader audience!

Monday, August 25, 2008

can haz blog post, pleez?

Amazing how having a job can interfere with one's blogging. Cliff Note's update:

  • EMI digital engineering is now happily ensconced in our temporary SF office and hiring is going nicely. (Note to purveyors of temporary office space, if you want my business, clearly explain your pricing, allow me to close quickly, and after I take the time to come visit don't suddenly explain that you only do two month or longer leases.)
  • I have a bit of an addiction to NikeID.  Shocking, I know, that I would love user-generated clothing, but there's something amazing about completely custom shoes for a $10 premium.  Recently got a pair that was sized incorrectly and was pleased to find that Nike has a great return policy -- any reason for 30 days and free return shipping label.  Amazing the influence that Amazon, Zappos, and others have had on online shopping.
  • Made Alton Brown's deep-fried mac and cheese.  All food can now be clearly divided into two classes: perfection (ie, deep-fried mac and cheese) and not-perfection (ie, everything else).  I modified the recipe slightly -- buttermilk rather than eggs for binding the panko  -- and if you cook you should try this!
Less eclectic posts coming, I hope.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

questions about the password anti-pattern

This came up in two different conversations today, so a post rather than just sending email. For those not familiar with the concept, the password anti-pattern refers to web sites that ask you to submit a name and password in order gather your friends' email addresses. Jeremy Keith has a nice description of it on his blog. The problem is that it teaches people to cough up their password, which is a particularly bad habit online, especially in the age of phishing and pharming attacks.

It is particularly noxious because most of the major online email services have APIs for doing this in a secure manner. Google has the Contacts API. Yahoo! has the Address Book API. AIM friend lists can be grabbed via OpenAuth. The Windows Live can help you with Facebook and Bebo. MySpace

If you want to play with how these work for the end user, Flickr has a really nice implementation up for scraping Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail contact lists.

shout out for great customer service

My wife just bought a new car from Sonnen in San Rafael, CA. We did our research online and coordinated the test drive via their internet sales manager, Jay Vaswani (his email is jvaswani at sonnenvwaudi dot dealercrm dot com). From arrival at the dealership for the test drive to driving off the lot was under 3 hours. Not only that, but Jay drove to our house - 45 minutes away -- to pickup a check from us, since we somehow ended up a an auto dealership without a checkbook! Jay also was quick to answer email enquiries over the weekend. It is striking how great customer service really stands out from the average. Thanks, Jay!

Friday, July 25, 2008

kindle reset

I was transferring files to Kindle's SD card via USB when it locked up. Neither power cycle nor hard reboot fixed it. Instead it would start the power-on cycle, put up the happy Amazon Kindle logo but then hang forever. Was about to call Amazon when I tried powering it down, popping out the SD card, and then booting it. Voila! Kindle came up fine. Turned it back off, re-inserted the SD card, and everything is working fine again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

more reasons to <3 kindle

Tor.com has opened. Baen's approach of releasing free books to reach a broader audience continues to generate ripples. Kudos to Tor, and thank you for the introduction to a bunch of new authors.

Separately, I just used Amazon's PDF->Kindle email service to move some reference materials on to Kindle. It didn't handle the code snippets perfectly, but it worked fairly well. Getting PDFs to work perfectly on Kindle will make an already useful device even more important to me.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

colbert report now officially the most awesomest show evar

Much improved audio for the Colbert Report introduction:


The interview and performance:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

fina-lively

Coming as a shock to almost no one, the 800-pound Googlerilla released their virtual world-ish product today, Lively.

Lots of good stuff here that pretty much all of us have predicted. It runs in a browser, rooms rather than a whole world to more easily balance resource requirements, integration with Google chat so you can talk to the rest of the world, and a wonderful aesthetic to appeal to Club Penguin graduates.

Lots of the web reports are positioning it as a direct Second Life competitor, with Michael Arrington of TechCrunch declaring "Well, this sucks for Second Life." Really? First, Lively has a host of unknowns. Will Google quickly get it running on OS X, or will Google's love-hate relationship with Apple slow things down? How flexible will the user-generated content become (and will you buy it with Google Checkout)? Sketchup and Google Earth integration? Also, what are you going to do in Lively? Club Penguin runs everywhere and isn't just a chat environment. Instead, there are tons of games and activities on top of the social bits.

Of course, if Lively is a typical Google product, we'll see a lot of iteration and improvement. More importantly, Google moving into virtual worlds adds interest and excitement to the space, which is great. It builds on recent technical milestones like Second Life to Open Sim teleportation, the regulatory opportunities opened up by Vermont's virtual corporation law, Whirled's flash-based approach, and Mitch Kapor's 3D interface experiments. Lively is step forward, potentially an important one if it is approachable enough and gives you something to do. But the idea that it is going to achieve Google web search levels of dominance is probably a little silly.

some tech bits that are making me happy

At Linden, we had a white board which contained all the technologies that had not yet screwed us. At one point, it had a lot of different technologies, applications, and programs, but over time they were erased until we were down to grep and less. Such is the way of software development. I've been using a few bits of technology that are new to me, both during my teaching/consulting/speaking time and now as I spin up on new technology at EMI, and four have been added to my wall.

The first is TextMate, a coding text editor for OS X. Although it has a couple of quirks -- hitting tab with a block of code selected replaces the block of code with a tab?! -- it is lightweight, handles lots of languages and scripts well, and plays nicely with the command line. I suspect that I could get XCode to do everything I currently use TextMate for, but somehow XCode seems too heavy weight for Ruby, Haskel, JavaScript, and other small, light coding tasks. Yes, I realize that if I was a Real Geek (tm) I would just use Emacs or Vim, but I am secure in my geek cred.

The second is Git. We used CVS and Subversion at Linden and Subversion was my default source code manager, but after mucking around with Git, I have a bit of a crush. I've listened to the Siren Song of distributed source code control before, but after [name redacted] failed to play nicely with the Second Life code tree, I had myself tied to the mast. However, two years later, progress has been made. Git seems to Just Do What I Want, including properly handing file deletion. I haven't yet thrown a large project at it or shifted directories all over the place, but so far Git has been fast, stable, and perfect for my needs going forward. Even better, it integrates nicely into TextMate! Been playing with GitHub -- an online service that makes you glad to be living in a world governed by Moore's Law -- but don't have enough data yet, other than the interface being very clean and easy to use.

Third, I have high hopes for Basecamp. Two days of data entry later, nearly all my thoughts on how to tackle EMI technical challenges are crystalized, partitioned, and shared. Basecamp is very fast, has just enough features, and is cheap enough to provisionally move onto the wall. Lots of other project planning and tracking software leads me to assume that Basecamp will eventually dash my hopes, but so far it has done a good job of delivering on what it promises. More reports to come.

Finally, I've switched to using Fluid for various Google app domains, Basecamp, Github, Facebook, Blogger, and Google Calendar. Fluid is a "site specific browser", one of those web terms you probably haven't heard of yet. You might hear about it in the future, but more likely by the time it gets to the mainstream, OS X will have just integrated it into the OS. Fluid makes web sites act a lot more like desktop applications and other than not playing well with gmail + gchat has been working very well. It has a couple of really nicely thought out features. For example, when using Basecamp, I've found it useful to have two browsers open -- rather than on tabs -- because you can't always get all the info you need to refer to on a single page. When you reopen the Fluid basecamp app, it remembers how many pages were open, their screen positions, and where you were. Slick!

So there you go. Four technologies that have yet to screw me, which is pretty high praise. We'll see how long they remain.

a good read

As I've mentioned before, I read a lot of Baen books.  Partially this is due to my tastes in travel reading aligning nicely with their catalog, but mostly it's because I spend a lot of time reading on the road, and Jim Baen, Eric Flint and others at Baen were ahead of their time in pushing to release books as non-drm digital downloads.  They've also released tons of books as free downloads, so it's easy to sample new authors.  Now that I am Kindle-enabled, I'm reading even more books this way, and last night plowed through Eric Flint's The Rivers of War, an alternate history that begins during the war of 1812.  Good, fun read.  Doesn't eclipse my current high water mark for historical speculative fiction -- Dan Simmon's The Terror is in a class by itself -- but, like the Belisarius series Flint cowrote with David Drake, Rivers has a wonderful attention to detail, makes one glad to not be on a battlefield, has several laugh-out-loud moments, and was the perfect way to spend a few hours in a hotel far from home.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

two macs died in two days, nothing lost

Clustering happens, which in this case was unfortunate. First my MacBook Air got confused while I was moving files over to my new work computer. The login app was crashing on startup, looking a lot like the corrupt NetInfo DB bug discussed in several places on the web, but with 10.5 that couldn't be the problem. After wasting a couple of hours on the command line and not resolving it, I fell back to the trusty OS X archive install, where you reinstall OS X while preserving your accounts and settings. Worked like a charm and everything was fine. Huge kudos to Apple to keeping this feature solid in release after release of OS X.

This had just finished when I got a call that one of our home Macs was failing to boot and displaying a circle with a line through it. Uh-oh. After fsck and an archive install, it came back up but continued to act flakey. A bit more trouble shooting made clear that its drive is dying, although it was sort of working in target disk mode. Fortunately, Time Machine plus a Time Capsule had been doing their thing, so nothing was lost. Everything already restored to a different machine and busted machine waiting for a trip to the Apple store.

Yay, backups! One note, make sure you let Time Machine do the whole drive, not just the user's directory. If not for target disk mode working, I would have had to reinstall a ton of software.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

let us imagine you were a recruiter

I received an amusing blind approach from a recruiter today. Included below with certain details redacted:

Cory,
Hello my name is [redacted] and I am from [redacted] in Boston. I am an IT Recruiter and I am working with one of my top clients in Boston which is looking for an OpenGL developer for an iPhone/game application. Please send me your updated Word formatted resume and also give me a call at [redacted] to discuss the opening if you are interested. If you are not interested and know someone who may be please forward my contact information along. I want to thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.
Best,
[redacted]
Wow. Sending a spam email that demonstrates zero time spent investigating me is not the way to get me to send you a resume or help you find someone else, which is kind of silly given how many developers I know.

This was one of two recruiter emails I received today. The other one was also spam, but took things up a notch by arriving with several hundred email addresses that were supposed to be BCC-ed showing up. Is the tech job market once again hot enough to support such poor recruiting?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

learning from the mouse

Walking through Orlando Airport, it was fun watching how the main Orlando help desk and Disney personnel guide arriving visitors. As tired family after tired family stumbles into the baggage claim area, both the help desk and Disney employees with clipboards firmly but nicely engage with a "Can I help you?" followed by a very concise set of instructions and directions to the next stage in the arrival process. Clearly, if they waited for new arrivals to ask for help -- or spent excessive time with most guests -- there would be a massive backup at the help desk. By reaching out and providing guidance to nearly everyone, they catch most people who need help before the guests even know what to ask for and maintain a really high throughput. High volume and high touch customer support at the same time. I bet there are other businesses that could benefit from their approach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

kindletastic

Something else I like about the Kindle is that it allows me to read multiple books simultaneously, something I used to do prior to having a train commute and lots of travel. I'm liking the Kindle more and more as I use it. The question will be what happens once I can buy a good e-book reader from the iPhone App Store. I suspect I'll end up with as much of my data as possible on both devices and the use the iPhone for short reading sessions, Kindle for longer ones, but we'll see.

yes, hiring now (if not sooner)

The best part of the two weeks in London is that many of our opportunities have snapped into focus. We're going to be lean and scrappy, so if you are looking to write code to attack interesting engineering challenges with great people, drop me an email. To those of you who've already pinged me, thank you! I'm chewing through back emails as quickly as possible and will do my best to respond quickly.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

missing use case and the hidden media library

[Edit: Comments have pointed out that I almost had found all the pieces, as download delivery is available from the Media Library. Although maybe not from the UK, where I was. Apparently, you order it, then go to the media library for a download.]

Several people recommended Clay's new book on this trip. Here Comes Everybody was on my list, but with extra endorsements it moved to the front of the queue. Now that I have my Kindle, I'm trying to minimize my physical book purchases. Amazon's Whispernet -- their wireless delivery mechanism to Kindle -- only functions in the United States, but since Kindle is obviously targeted at travelers, there must be a "download to my computer and copy via USB"-option, right?

Nope.

Now, in this case, I'll wait to get home and purchase the book then, but what if I was out of reading material and just grabbed it here? Lost opportunity for Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, the link to Clay's book is Amazon Associate enabled, so in theory I get a small payment if you buy via that link. I hadn't used the associate links before and wanted to see their user-experience. Quite nice, although it has some bugs. Attempting to build an associate link to Kindle generated an empty page and the link generator failed to find the Kindle edition of the book. [Edit: the link is to the Kindle edition but I'm not sure why the link generator picked that one]

In clicking around trying to find a download option for the Kindle book, I discovered Amazon's "your media library", which I hadn't seen before. Is anybody using this? Does the web camera bar code reader work? It seems to aggregate your Amazon purchases, as well as any item that you click "I own this" when adjusting the recommendations. Odd to find a feature with a lot of work thrown into it just lurking on Amazon's site.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

and so it begins

I was in Brighton chatting with former coworkers and realized that I've now been working at EMI for three weeks. Three weeks of drinking from the fire-hose, talking to lots of talented folks, and coming up to speed as quickly as possible. Tomorrow I head home from England, tired, my first moleskin full of scrawled notes from meetings and discussions with my new coworkers.

Apologies to everyone in London who I missed on this trip. I didn't get out of the office much, although the few times I did led to discussions with smart people . Cory provided insights into variable pricing, tipping, and entitlement. Jan was a great devil's advocate about music discovery while John was -- as always -- generous with his experiences running Magnatune. Plus, dinner was delicious! I'm behind on email, but in catching up Salman Ahmad pointed out that I can't count, since I bought Junoon's Infiniti when he played at Stanford last year. Sorry!

This week in San Francisco, next in Los Angeles. Hope United gets me home on time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

gmail psa

Apparently if you send an email to around 500 recipients and several bounce, gmail's automatic anti-spam provisions will kick in and you won't be able to send email for around 24 hours. In telling friends and colleagues about my move to EMI I, of course, triggered this limit. Fortunately, gmail is working again now.

Interesting user experience lesson, though. If you rely on a free service that has no human support, what happens when the algorithm generates a false positive and locks you out? If Google had a "Pay $20 for help" button, I would have happily done that to resolve the issue. Hell, I would have paid $100 to fix it. Wonder if they're leaving money on the table?

Monday, June 09, 2008

new job, not like the old job

Many key moments of my career have soundtracks.

  • Deciding to leave Lockheed Sanders, move to California, and help start Acclaim Coin-Op? Jane’s Addiction’s live album.
  • Finally crushing Armageddon’s game object memory leak? Veruca Salt’s "8 Arms to Hold You."
  • Road Rash’s threading crash bug and final Nintendo approval? Hole’s "Celebrity Skin."
  • Adding lists into Second Life’s scripting language? Rush’s "Vapor Trails."
I listen to music riding BART, walking to work, on airplanes, and while I write. I’ve spent countless hours programming with headphones on.

Despite this, I neither buy nor hear much new music. Since 2000, I’ve only purchased 5 albums. Three by Rush (enough of my friends are Rush fans, so somebody reminds me when they release a new album), Pearl Jam’s "Pearl Jam" (I read a Rolling Stone review in an airport), and REM’s Accelerate (best Terry Gross interview on "Fresh Air" in months.)

Why not? I hear lots of new music I like – anything from the first couple seasons of Alias would work – but I never hear new music in the right context to buy it. When I listen to radio, I’m listening to NPR to catch up on the news. The good local music stores are all gone. When I’m working, I want to hear music I like, so I have a very low threshold for experimentation. Coworker’s iTunes shares provide a hint at something new, but DRM and the hassles of being on the wrong computer – working on a desktop when my music is on my phone and laptop – keep me from jumping onto the iTunes Music Store to make a purchase.

Note that none of this lack of purchasing is because I’m just torrenting stuff. The problem is that connecting discovery of new music to the ability to own the music is completely jacked. Even when I knew I wanted something – Accelerate – I had the problem that I was traveling with my MacBook Air, so buying a CD was useless. I had never setup the iTMS on that computer and you would be amazed at how hard Apple has made that process. It’s like they don’t want to sell me music. Then, once I did remember all the passwords I needed, I couldn’t figure out whether the iTunes download was DRM free. So I went to Amazon, which was slightly easier and made it clear the download wasn’t broken via DRM.

It is incredibly frustrating. I want to be able to find new music. When I find new music, I’m happy to pay the artists for it. Once I own music, I want to be able to listen to it wherever I am. How hard can this be?

I’m about to find out. Two weeks ago, I joined EMI Music as SVP of Digital Strategy.

Why EMI? By hiring Douglas Merrill, EMI has demonstrated a commitment to capitalize on all the technology available to make the music experience better for artists and fans. At Linden, the most important changes I drove were blends of technology and licensing, so when Douglas asked me to join him at EMI, I jumped at the chance. Music touches everyone in the world and is uniquely part of our lives -- how could I not take this challenge?

Obviously, I have a lot to learn about music and EMI, so I’ll be spending time in London and Los Angeles. Moreover, I'll be reaching out to many of you for help as I figure out how to build the right team to generate sustained, ongoing innovation around music. (Want to work on these challenges? Let me know!)

And, yes, I will be definitely be blogging about it.

Oh, and what was I listening to when I decided to join EMI? REM’s Accelerate.

(OK, go back to waiting for Jobs' keynote now)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

good reads

I have a confession. I've never read the other Cory's novels. I'm as addicted to Boing Boing as the next person, appreciate his non-fiction work, read his short stories, and generally enjoy the conversations we've had. But "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" never grabbed me, so I've not read his novels.

Oops.

Thoroughly enjoyed "Eastern Standard Tribe" (on the new Kindle, no less) on the flight over to London. Geeky, fast paced, perfect travel consumption for me. Now I'm about half-way through "Little Brother", which so far is heartbreaking and wonderful, despite (or because of) it being such a rant. When my daughter reads it in 4 or 5 years, I wonder if it will resonate because society has self-corrected or because we've gone even deeper into the rathole of fear. I certainly hope it is the former.

I'd write more, but I want to get back to "Little Brother." If you're on this blog, you'll want to go read it, too.

[Edit: Finished "Little Brother" later Sunday, resulting in being fairly tired on Monday. If anything, it got better as it went. Really enjoyed it.]